Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Skirmish Update

Much formation manipulation for the client! Can now:

  1. Right click-then-drag to specify move-to-and-orient. Automatically picks between advance and defend forms.
  2. Create new formations.
  3. Edit the current formation live. Can change it in combat too.
  4. Save the current formation into a formation slot.
  5. Reduce or increase the freedom of the formation spots.
Is neat! 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Skirmish Update

  • Completed Object-effects; we have terrible looking swinging sticks and projectile cylinders for arrows now. I did quite a bit more to the visual effects system than just that though. Should be able to make some neat effects in the future with it.
  • We now have detailed logs in the simulator for seeing what happens, exactly. It needs some love but the first edition is useful for seeing the order of things.
  • The client will now grey out unavailable actions, and I added a column in the action specification for a highlight condition. So, if some action gets a bonus when the target is stunned, we can set up a 'tar: hasstate(Stunned)' highlight condition and make it glow at the right time.
It occurs to me I've never uploaded any imagery to the blog to show what we've got. I think I'll take some snapshots sometime and demonstrate.

For now, here's a link to the simulation output sheet. Enjoy?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

So much to do..

On my list for the near future:

  • Object-effects (mostly done), for things like showing projectiles.
  • Client-side action availability. The data is on the client side, but as of yet unused. Need to show when actions are available and not. Likewise the 'use this now' glow will use the same concept.
  • More data parsing; get first commander tree abilities working.
  • Make formations editable.
  • Make charge/retreat work!
  • Drag-swoosh formation motion.
  • Show commander actions, or get them working if for some reason they aren't.
  • Prep for art:
    • COLLADA import for mesh-effects, character, terrain and props. This would get us some import from CityScape, which I'd like to use to build the environments.
    • Integrate data in database?
  • Start work on standalone client/server app for single-player game.
    • "Local" server.
    • "Local" accounts system without the database backing; for saving in single player.
  • Log-output simulation
  • Commander/squad sims.
And OH god so much more.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The New World (TLDR Version)

I'm seriously thinking of having the first conversation in the game have an optional player reply at the end of it labelled 'TLDR', and having it pretty much wipe out the rest of the text in the entire game. It might make our esteemed writers cry though.

Maybe we'll also tie it to a nasty difficulty level.

Anyway, here lies the TLDR version of the previous post.

The setting is thus: A system of 17 moons around a gas giant. The closer to the planet, the more magical the setting, and the further, the more technological. Magic is done in understandable and physically limited ways. Magical energy is based on the 4 elements of yore; Earth Air Fire and Water. All matter is made of this energy and so is manipulatable by difficult magic.

The 'home' or 'origin' planet is a low-magic, high-tech civilization. This civilization is based on a vision of reality called the 'rules of invention', which allows them to create artifacts of complicated nature. The complexity is only limited to persistence and discipline. Devices as complicated as laser weaponry can be created by the smartest individuals, while the most stupid can still follow the rules and build themselves a toaster.

The conflict begins when a group discovers that the rules can be broken and that magic is the real law of the universe. In the ensuing culture clash this group builds a device to travel to another supposedly inhabited, high-energy moon. Some do so to prove their theory, some do to escape persecution, and some do to escape civilization, among other reasons.

One of the themes is science vs. fantasy. In this setting science and fantasy are effectively reversed from reality. Rather than science being the breakthrough of the renaissance, magic is, where science previously held sway. Except that the old 'science' is actually wrong and therefore more 'magic'.. It's wonderfully inverted.

A further theme is the corruptability of power. Some of the scientists learn what they can do in the high magic moons and take their research a bit too far. Also there is the nature of humanity, in that with the new tools in hand, people can eventually manipulate their own bodies in the same way that they perform invention.

That's probably still TLDR actually, but it's better.

How bout:


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The New World

Back in March I talked a little bit about the planned setting. While the basic concepts of the 'main' game still hold, we've gone a bit deeper on the concepts that drive the setting as a whole. And, as I mentioned in the previous post on consistency of the setting, it is time to declare the axioms of the new World.

This may be a bit dense. Forgive me. Perhaps next time will be a TLDR version. :p

First, this is not set in the real world, or even a distant or remote location in the universe. The laws of nature in this universe differ. It is fantasy. By design, it is a fantasy setting with roots in science fiction. That is to say, given a suspension of disbelief for the basic concepts, the rest should feel more science-y and less fantas-y. In fact, the difference between science and fantasy is a major theme of the setting, as you (assuming you keep reading and my language isn't terrible) will see shortly.

The center of importance in this new universe is a large planet, a gas giant, with 17 moons in its orbit. Each of these moons, by the nature of this universe, is habitable. The sun is distant but still much larger than other stars, but the gas giant (we need a name for it) dominates the sky. Furthermore, the stretches of space near the giant are not empty. They are filled, albeit sparsely, with a gas-like matter, which we'll just call aether as an analogue to science past.

The axioms of physics differ in this world, which is the root of the fantasy element. The energy of the universe has 4 distinct forms, which effectively correspond to the elements of antiquity; Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. These also correspond to the phases of matter; Solid, Liquid, Gas, and Plasmas (not respectively, but rather obviously). These elemental energies react to each other not unlike the physical forces of our universe. Small amounts of these energies form the equivalent of atoms. These elemental atoms can combine or react with other forms of the energy, or other energy types, to form more complicated patterns, similar to molecular structures. When there is sufficiet energy the different natures of the elements become more pronounced, however. Dense energy structures will repel their opposites, and larger quantities may produce more explosive results.

Like energy and matter in our universe, the elemental energy manifests as matter in the new World. All things are, in the end, composed of atoms of each element, although in massively complicated structures. As expected, the energy makeup of matter corresponds to the type of matter; stones will likely have mostly earth energy to them, and little air. This fact of existance applies to humans as well. The 'pattern' of their energy defines their physical structure. Unlike the real world equivalent (DNA), this has effect at a larger scale. A person is one large stable structure of energy.

Both people's brains and forms are results of this energy. Thereby, moving energy around is a natural consequence of existance. By an effort not unlike moving a muscle, entities can manipulate the energy that composes their bodies. This is the basics of effects we would call magic. Shifting where the energy lies within the pattern of the body produces effects. Moving earth around may increase the stability or strength of the recipient part of the body. Most entities do this completely subconsciously, just as a matter of existing. Intelligent entities can learn to do more than just move around their own energy, however.

Energy follows a few principles similar to reality. Diffusion and equilibrium are important concepts. A pattern of energy/matter has a nominal quantity of energy to it. When this amount of energy is present in the pattern, the object is in equilibrium with its environment; is giving off as much energy as is absorbing. If the pattern has too much energy, it will emit the energy away from itself. This energy by nature diffuses outward until something else absorbs it. Think of heat transfer in the real world. Combined with the ability to move energy around, this gives intelligent entities a more useful ability. Intentionally pushing energy out of the body will have an effect on the surrounding. Shunting an amount of fire energy into a piece of wood may light in on fire, as a simple example. More complexly, the shunted energy can be crafted into a new pattern, to produce a specific effect, rather than just empowering an object blindly. The limitation of complexity in these patterns is entirely based on the intellect and willpower of the individual. Intellect to understand what to shape, and willpower to control the energy enough to make the shape.

Theoretically speaking, such a crafted energy form could have its own equilibrium and physical manifestation. These patterns are necessarily very complicated, of course. Even more importantly, once the person realizes that they themselves are the same form of energy, just far more complicated, they could begin manipulating their own energy pattern (rather than the quantity of energy in the pattern), or begin creating a new, artificial lifeform by crafting an incredibly intricate pattern.

Take a breath now. Plenty more to say.

Now then! The gas giant is the local source of the matter/energy in the area. The aether is just low-density energy radiation from the giant. The 17 moons, however, are at varying distances in orbit. The close moons will then have a FAR higher quantity of energy on them than remote moons. The quantity of energy changes the nature of life on these planets substantially.

A close moon, one with a great deal of energy, will produce patterns that are very polar; very much focused on single elements. Creatures on this planet will be very imbalanced, both physically and mentally. With too much energy, the complexity required for intelligence is less likely. Put succinctly: The more energy, the less complexity.

A far moon, one with little energy, will produce very stable and complicated patterns. Intelligent life began on the furthest moons. The 'home' planet in our story is not the furthest moon, but is quite distant. The effect of 'magic' on this moon is never obvious. There isn't enough energy to produce random effects in the world. Nothing happens without something influencing it directly. In this way these far worlds effectively resemble our own Earth, although the physics is entirely different.

Note that the equilibrium of an object from a close moon will be very high, while one from a far moon will be very low. A 'near' object moved 'far' will be pulling in as much energy as possible to retain its equilibrium (in heat terms, it would make things cold). A 'far' object moved 'near' would radiate energy continually, as it dumps energy to return to its low equilibrium. Since planetary travel is part of the story here, one can imagine this is relevant.

Another breath; Now we move from 'science' to 'society'.

Our 'home' planet is designed to be similar to earth. The people have, over the years developed their understanding of the world. They've built their rules that help them model the world. However, the rules the society have learned are actually incorrect. The rules can be successfully used to understand the world, but it turns out this is mostly coincidental. Imagine a world where, given the laws of energy above, one can create objects through intellect and willpower. This world, however, has very little energy to work with. Composing a complicated pattern would take a great deal of time to pool the necessary energy. The work would have to be broken into small pieces, each of them internally stable, in order to accomplish any complicated task.

The rules of invention are basically a set of instructions that people follow to produce components, then assemble these components into a useful tool. Now, naively that sounds just like our reality. We build nails, screws, tools, levers, gears, pumps, etc. etc. etc to construct a complete artifact. The end effect is that the rules let people make things. In this very slow case, willpower is translated into persistence, and intellect into discipline. If you follow the rules, you can make something complicated. But it might take a very long time to make something very complicated!

Briefly contrast this to a person from a 'near' moon. With sufficient energy, a simple artifact can be produced on a whim. It will have strength and power and be effective. A complicated artifact, however, is almost impossible! Since it is difficult to keep objects stable, a crafter cannot build separate components. Only an amazingly intelligent (and willful!) person could possibly craft anything of lasting nature.

We must also consider the nature of the crafter. The pattern created by the crafter will be 'colored' by his own pattern, since his pattern is responsible for the crafting. A 'fiery' person will likely create 'fiery' artifacts. Taken to the next level in complexity, this means that artifacts are matched to their creators. Since that sounds interesting, let's amplify that effect. Let us define that artifacts are almost unusable, except by their creators. (This only really applies to permanent artifacts, such as objects created on the 'far' moon). What we get is a world without factorization, without publicly traded goods. Instead, we have a world were anyone can make anything, given the time and instruction (the 'rules of invention'). These rules then become the cornerstone of society. Without the rules, people don't know how to make anything, and without being able to make a thing, they cannot use it. (Clearly this wouldn't matter for mundane things like tables and sheets and houses, but it would for machinery or electronics).

Society, we decide, has advanced to a enlightened age. One based on the laws of reason, and the rules of invention. One were everyone builds their own devices. These devices are all unique in detail, but similar in technique. Furthermore, they don't really need to behave according to our 'real world physics'. What we 'could' get could look a lot like Steampunk, and since that sounds fun, let's make it so. Let's have our 'far' society reach a Victorian-ish era, but with technology that both far surpasses, and is far behind, our own victorian history. Technology can do more, but more variable.

So, what happens when someone learns that the 'rules of invention' are just a facade over real 'physics'?

That's the story of the prequel. A group has discovered 'science', long after technology has been developed despite its lack. From the real world perspective, it's all reversed. Their 'science' is magic, and their 'magic' is science. The scientists discover that, by abandoning the societal 'rules', they can far surpass their colleagues in craft. They use their new concepts to fuel new inventions and new concepts. They learn about astronomy, they learn the nature of the giant, and their neighbor moons. The learn the concept behind the natural elemental energies, and harness it to create awesome new artifacts.

But the people of the world do not see this as enlightenment. They see it as heresy. As the word of Galileo was met with denial, so here the word of Magic is met with fear. The world's powers turn on science in a grand crusade, a holy war to extinguish falsehood and restore the rightful way of the rules. The scientists, together with 2 groups that aided in their discoveries, are driven away. In a plea to prove themselves correct (and perhaps to escape imminent destruction), they create a new, massive artifact. One that will take them to a new moon, one with more energy with which to fuel their science. Using their telescopes and astronomy, they find a planet that also appears to have intelligent life. A concept the remainder of society had not even contemplated.

They undergo their journey...

To be continued...


Skirmish Update

Relatively newly implemented:
  • Class trees with highlighted ranks and XP; allows changing classes. Only 'available' class trees are shown (usually 1 of the 6 possible).
  • Skill trees with highlighted learned skills, ability to learn skills.
  • Rewritten entity storage; saving and loading really works now, really. Skills, classes, SP/XP, and formations are saved without fail.
  • Cut network traffic down to 10% or so.
  • More data parsing stuff to enable different game effects/actions/states
  • Formations are viewable on the client.
  • Local Network server discovery.
  • Some particle effects.
  • Other stuff too rote to remember.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Absurd yet consitent..

I want to talk a little bit about establishing setting today. Also as a side note; writing this from Munich. Word.

Setting is important. If the game is going to have any immersiveness, the setting has to allow it. It describes the world that allows the plot to happen. It's the clues and hints for what is to come. I don't think any random concepts can do that (and more), however. To me there are a couple keys to a good setting that let it do its job.

Internal inconsistency always bugs me. When the idea behind a story is contradicted by the action in the story, all illusory disbelief is immediately broken down. This contradiction is often a simple oversight on the part of the writers, but the story is broken nonetheless. Often I bet that the logical inconsitency is discovered late in the writing process, and it is realized that the problem negates the original plot entirely. Wow. Sucks. The key to me is to determine the basis for the setting coherently. If an inconsitency is found, it must be reasonably explained; ideally prior to the viewer/player discovering it.

Of course, avoiding that entirely is better.

With fantasy, there's always an escape. The traditional 'A wizard did it'. Meh. That's lame. It may explain it but it does nothing for the audience. It's forced suspension of disbelief.

I'd rather see fantasy itself be coherent. Now, that doesn't mean coherent with reality. That's science fiction, in theory. Reality has all sorts of obnoxious physical laws that make things all normal. Who wants normal! Thus fantasy introduces magic as a mechanism for coherence. Magic lets the world be interesting. But is magic internally consistent?

I think it ought to be. But most of the time it isn't. Harry Potter is of course a gross example. I think the setting of the series would be stronger given a more defined magic, but clearly the world's populace does not think it was necessary. Mind I enjoy the books a great deal myself, despite my whining. I enjoy Jim Butcher's books more than otherwise because of the mindfulness to consistency. Now, it could just be that I don't read in depth enough to note the inconsitency, but I'll argue that this means that he did good enough to fool me. Butcher's magic breaks physical laws, but never without cost, and the cost is always proportional to the reward. I never feel like asking, 'Why didn't he just...?', but more often go 'He should do...', then he does. Or he comes up with some wacky (but simple) idea, that totally should work, and totally does, like arrows made of salt.

Back to me. :)

When developing Elementus, a pen and paper RP system, I built up a concept behind elemental magics, divided into nice symmetries and methods, each concept in its place in a nicely formed grid. The system was massively broken from a gameplay point of view, but that's neither here nor there, yet. I loved the apparent rules behind a concept that should be beyond rules. Eventually I tried to take the concept behind magic and explain other phenomena in the world. What I ended up with was, well, pretty out there. What I found, however, is that, to the players, none of this matters. At all! They really couldn't care less.

But it provided me with ideas, and ideas that came from the details tended to make coherent sense within the established rules. It's kind of like basic math. You start with basic axioms. Decided upon truths. And from those you derive the details. The details must then be based on the axioms, unless you're wrong. That happens.

So when something happens to my players (be me the GM or writer), I can explain why. When the players do something unexpected, I have a wealth of concepts to draw from to try and resolve it. When they say 'I think I should be able to do this', I can say 'Yes you can, and it is awesome'. Then they do it, and they feel awesome for having thought of it.

I want to reiterate that now, since I feel it's really the message of this entire post. If the setting is consistent, the player will become immersed in the story; while immersed the player can make reasonable guesses; the player can do something awesome. If the setting is not consistent, the player will be wrong more often than right. The player's options are reduced to scanning through all available options and hoping one works better than the others. Derivation is not allowed. No salt arrows. No creativity. It means that the game does not encourage thought, nor exploration, nor experimentation, and that the game cannot reward the player for engagement. What becomes of this is a toy, more than a world.

Enough rambling.
I've had some time to ponder the setting. I have some ideas that I like, and I feel that they are internally coherent, despite being a bit.. different. It's time to get them down in writing, and see if they hold up to the first order of analysis.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A new forward plan.

Well, life, as always, has been crazy. 2 trips down, 2 to go, 2 conferences, 2 weddings, relatively little time spent at work, and less on World. Alas, so it goes.

But in the absence of time spent working on the nitty gritty, I've instead been just thinking about the project as a whole. I've come to a decision regarding the future of the World project, talked about it with the fellow Toasties, and decided to write it down here, as a sort of official declaration, though few will read it.

The project, in general, is knowingly unattainable in scope. The World project's target game is a monstrosity of complexity, and although I've reduced the complexity of the beast in many technical ways, the full game is still far far away, despite spending 3 times longer on this project than any other in my past! However, what we do have is not valueless! The game and architecture are tenable and getting funner. The mechanics are interesting, and the setting is slowly maturing, at least in concept.

Now, as with all my 'side' projects in the past, the goal has not been to ship, to make money, or to even finish! None of my projects ever attained anything resembling completion.

I think it's time that changed.

So we have a new goal. I want to finish a project, even if it is a simple, miniscule representation of the whole. To that end we've designed a new, manageable project, which takes the current project and provides it a more concrete direction.

The new game is smaller. It loses the World aspect and only retains the Skirmish. It is single player (to start)! But it is attainable. The idea is to take a short story, a precursor to the World epic, and to execute it as a short sequence of concrete manageable missions. The missions will be a sort of archetype for the skirmishes in the World game. The player development of the game will occupy, roughly, our estimated first 30 levels, which takes us up to the introduction of 'magic'. These levels are already established and designed, for the most part! The mechanics of gameplay do not differ from the World's skirmishes, with some exceptions for multiplayer capability.

This project concept puts a target out there in reasonable reach. It'll get me to focus on the actual game and less on theory, perhaps. It's direct us to do things we hadn't before, but always wanted to, like level design, sound engineering, installation, actual assets. And in theory, it can get something out there, and make this a 'real' thing.

I suppose that's the crux. Someday I want to make my games for real. In college, Tristan and I came to the realization that we could make a game, so why not do it, and damn the doubts of expectation? Here I find myself at a similar point. What's stopping me? Only myself.

Time will tell.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Skirmish Update

Non-toast life has been a bit hectic and tiring recently, so toast's been back-burner-ified. Nonetheless, progress:

  • Formation system implementation has started. Lots to do.
  • Added some new abilities to the effects framework. Custom effects can be written in the source docs, which allow for consistent AoE and specialty effects, including creating other entities. So we can do patches of fire, create seeking explosives, and create temporary auxiliary allies.
  • This also allows triggering AoE effects from procs and other states, such as a sweeping counterattack.
  • Echelon 3 primaries have been designed and initial implementations are begun.
  • Commander skill design has undergone some coenceptual changes but progresses nicely.
  • Starting design on macro-level game concepts and implementation structure.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Primary Class Advancement

Today's topic ties in with the last three. We're going to talk about the design for Primary units. A player's squad consists of a single Commander and a set of Primaries. The primaries do the heavy lifting, while the commander controls the behavior of the squad as a whole. Advancement-wise, commanders earn skill points, which the player uses to purchase skills. The primaries use a class system, which is the main topic of today's rant.

Every primary unit has a current class, which determines what his abilities and some behaviors are. It also determines what limited equipment he may use. Classes are simple, in that they at most have 3 or 4 active abilities or options, so they are relatively easy to design. Since the player may have anywhere between 4 and 16 primaries, we've built them to be easy to manage. When a unit ranks up in his class, there are no decisions to be made; it just happens. The only real developmental control the player has over his primaries is which class they are currently, and deciding when to change classes. Since there are lots of them.

Classes each have 10 ranks. Each rank may grant a new action (only while that class), some statistic upgrades (either permanent or only-that-class), and maybe some behaviors (such as the ability to critical strike). In the current design, at rank 5 the class will be given the ability to move to a more advanced class. If the advanced class has multiple class prerequisites, each will require rank 3. While the advanced classes are in general more powerful, ranking up to 10 grants the primary some permanent benefits. The option to change to something fancier is available early but it's up to the player to decide whether or not to use it.

The first 4 classes available (only 2 for any given player) are the Shieldman, Swordsman, Archer, and Scout. Very basic archetypes. Each of these has a direct advancement path, a specialization path, and a combination path. The Shieldman may advance to a Veteran Shieldman (direct), the Defender (specialization), or combine with either of the 3 other seed classes to form, respectively, the Dueller, Crossbowman, and Javeliner. Each of these has a different set of basic abilities, and further advancements beyond these work similarly, although the set of combinations ceases being exhaustive, since that would require a disgustingly large number of classes.

Gameplay-wise, the different seeds are catered to different playstyles. The shieldman is a line-unit, in that they are simple to use, and prefer to be in a large group. Archers work well in similar fashion, they like to be in large groups bombarding from relative safety. The Swordsman and Scout, on the other hand, prefer to be a bit more free to move and do their job. They suffer morale penalties when stuck in combat too long, as well, so they prefer the hit and run, or in general to be on the offense. Furthermore, the scout and archer have more specialized abilities, so may work better for players who like to manage units rather than formations. Advancements may or may not follow the basic paradigm of their origin classes, except for the direct advancement path, which does not make substantial changes to the behavior of the class. The Defender is a Shieldman specialization, which focuses on mobile defense. He's good at defending a set of other units, but only given space to move. He's a sort of interceptor, while the raw Shieldman is more of a blockade.

These 3 echelons (seed, Veteran, Master) form the basic unit types. Once the elemental power is available to the player, this changes things a bit. This happens around level 20, which after about 15 to 16 ranks learned, so a full class and a half. In the original design, the elements granted new seed classes, which may have also combined with existing classes, and, well, you can see the potential nightmare of class count here.

So we had a new idea. The elemental power doesn't really determine 'what' the unit can do, it merely modifies how the player does it. Why not codify that into the class system? When the power is gained, a new set of classes becomes available, one for each element. We call these classes Augmentation classes (and call the 'main' classes Cardinal). Aug classes never grant actions, but rather modify existing actions on any class they are tied to. Modifications can come in the form of procs (something happens as a result of something else happening), or in the form of ability replacements. A sweeping strike may be modified by an air elemental to be a wider range knockback wave. The basic action feels the same, but the effect is upgraded.

The complete classname is thereby given as a prefix for the Augmentation: A flame-swordsman, an earth-shieldman, etc. The early augmentations will be basic; aids to elemental defenses, some simple procs, etc. Later advancements between elements will yield more complicated ability conversions. Like cardinal classes, augments rank up and can yield new augments, or...

Or they can yield new cardinal classes! Or perhaps cardinal classes can teach augments? Why not?

After a bit of training with the elements, the units have mastered their control enough to consider making themselves into a strict magic user. Not a swordsman or archer with a bit of magic tacked on, but a raw magus. New cardinal classes become available; Incanter, Enchanter, Thaumaturge. Respectively; Projecting effects of magic, Modifying objects by use of elements at touch, and modifying elemental power at range. Incanters use a simple ability 'Blast'. But blast is just the method, it's nothing with an element to drive it. These classes require an elemental augmentation to be useful. And Fire-Incanter will have a fire blast, a Water-Enchanter may enhance weaponry with cold and ice, an Earth-Thaumaturge may slow the enemies movements or make their armanents brittle.

I'm personally holding out for a Mist-Summoner. Why not?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Quick Update

  • Client Data expanded to include states (and thereby classes as well).
  • Eirikr added a large number of icons to various actions, skills, classes, and states.
  • Added UI in the unit details panel to show buffs and debuffs, and added overlays in the group-selection that shows debuffs only.
  • Updates on communications (whoah, forgot about those) and action tooltips.
  • More primaries being built all the time. :p
Soon, type-database for correct enemy icons, enemy-group selection and auto-targetted specials.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Setting and Progression, Part 3

This time, a more bullet-point-y version of our planned game progression. Once we've got this down we can talk more about advanced classes and mitigating the class explosion the current design entails.

So the rough idea:

  • Character creation:
    • Levels 0->5
      • Training missions, teaches basic control concepts and culminates in deciding which two of the four initial classes are available (Shieldman, Swordsman, Archer, Scout)
  • Survival and finding faction, seeing the new world:
    • Levels 5->10
      • Introduces active abilities on primary classes. The initial 4 seeds focus less on passive abilities and more on 'relatively boring' buttons to push. There is also very little synergy between these classes, and their mechanics are 'easy'. Threat mechanics are exaggerated for simplicity, morale works well by default, no actions consume resources.
    • Levels 10->15
      • Introduces commander skills, starting with Tactical skills. These are the simplest category and are similar to primary classes actions and passives.
      • Introduces primary class decisions: At 10 the first class-change will be available, so the units can decide to specialize or not.
      • Begin introducing simple equipment for primaries
    • Levels 15->20
      • Introduce controllable formation mechanics, rather than only having the default automatic formations. Do so by starting learning commander skills of the 'Command' tree.
      • Class abilities migrate towards 'use at the right time' abilities with costs and potential negative consequences. Likewise introduce synergies between primary classes and formation mechanics.
      • Managing engagement and threat to become more important.
  • Exploring new power
    • Levels 20->30
      • Elemental archetypes are introduced to the player seeds. A specialized set of quests are built to train the player in the new class mechanic, do be discussed in the next article. This quest, like the training, should culminate in a class-availability selection.
      • Introducing terrain and region mechanics to combat statistics and movement.
      • Introduce commander-equipment, such as a standard.
    • Levels 30->40
      • New formation mechanics are available through Command-skill training, allowing more dynamic control.
      • Maneuver introduction: Maneuvers are a sort of 'group script' that can be setup beforehand and executed as a whole. Examples of such would be a simultaneous knock-back to afford regrouping into formation. Maneuver slots are granted through Command skills.
      • Antagonist introductions! Plot continues! 
      • Strong focus on primary classes' abilities synergizing, especially with new elemental-classes incorporated.
      • Introduction of consumable primary-class resources?
      • Managing morale to increase in importance and difficulty
  • Advanced settlement
    • Levels 40->50
      • Reintroduction of technology. New classes available. More decisions to be made.
      • Commanders gain access to their 'Resource' skill trees.
      • Introduction of combat-area manipulation in combat: Building walls, ditches, modifying the region through elemental magic or technology.
    • Levels 50->60
      • Introduction of automata construction for combat. Both elemental and technologically based. 
  • Confrontation
    • Levels 60+
      • Merged technological and elemental units. Access through quest-arc. No decision making here, previous decisions cover it. 
      • Other Awesome Things!

Actual 'level' numbers may change of course. A 'level' right now is defined as a number of ranks gained for primary classes, and by skill point availability for commanders.

Sounds kind of complicated by the end, doesn't it?

Next time, focusing on primary classes development over levels.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Setting and Progression, Part 2

Last time was a sort of exploration of how to train the player and use the setting to accomplish this transparently. Many of our ideas are rough and have not necessarily been planned or thought out fully. And all will likely change. But this is our/my current design, for the setting of the game.

First and initially, before actual playing: Your character belongs to a relatively advanced technological society. To give it some style, we're thinking of a sort of steampunk civilization. In this case the 'steam' technology will be substantially more advanced than actual steam technology. It's a sort of 'future of the past' setting.

However, the society is crumbling. As the game opens the player is escaping his homeland, through desperate measures. The civilization is under sudden and relentless attack, and the living remnants of society abandon their lands in Exodus. Their exodus takes them to a new land, hopefully beyond the reach of their aggressors. The exodus, however, has not allowed them to bring anything more than their technological knowledge. There was no time to bring artefacts and tools.

The nature of the attack and exodus is still up for debate. I personally have some ideas that are a bit out there, but I like that. Since I'm the one typing this, I get to say them. The nature of the attack is largely unknown to the players, but the attackers bear an unknown power that grants them swift victory. This power is, naturally, learned later as a course of the game and plot. My idea for the exodus is rather extreme; I want to ship the players to a new planet. More specifically, a new moon around the same planet. Bringing in the concepts of the victorian age, we'll have the space between filled with the aether, which the increasingly absurd 'steam' power propels the player through. The aether, though, is partially responsible for the new power. Travelling through it leaves the mark on the player, establishing their exceptionalism in the new world.

The player lands, regains consciousness in a hostile environment, and must survive. A few others join him for the previously mentioned tutorial segment. The new world is largely untamed, although ruins are scattered here and there. The player discovers a settlement of refugees learning how to survive, and a top level gameplay tutorial commences. The next major milestone is learning the power of the new world. The refugees are too hard pressed to spend time relearning lost steam technology, but instead make contact with intelligent local species with similar powers to those that destroyed the homeland. Let's just call it elemental magic. Through various means the ability to manipulate natural forces is learned. The survivors latch onto this power in order to survive. At this point the player is introduced to new class types and abilities.

Contact between survivors is reestablished, and factions begin to emerge. The player joins a faction, not unlike a guild, and begins settlement and exploration of the new world. They begin to make the land their own.   Naturally, a new foe emerges, an aggressor of the new world to prevent indefinite and total expansion of the now-colonists. The factions, their power unsufficient to continue expansion, need to learn more about their foes, to learn their weaknesses and defend themselves. The NPC factions begin attacking player settlements on the frontier of the new civilization. The players begin to uncover ruins of the old civilizations, and learn about their specific foes, which may differ from area to area. The deceased civilization is remarkably recent, and the factions learn that this land was wracked by wars of the elemental powers. The old civilization was destroyed utterly and left only ruins. Of course they are not completely gone, but we can reveal that later.

After some time, the colonists' resources become sufficient to rebuild their old technologies. Some turn to technology as a weapon, rather than the natural forces. Again, new classes and abilities are unveiled to players that pursue these options. About now we should hint that their destroyer is pursuing them through the aether, but will take some time to land. But when it does, the factions will be ready to defend themselves, with their newborn powers and technology rebuilt.

Shortly before the destroyers land, a breakthrough is made. A ruin is discovered with a special mineral in it. This mineral twists the natural elemental energy of the planet, and converts it into similar form as the colonists' technology requires. It is revealed that the steampower their technology is based on is rooted in the same physics as the local powers, and so the two can be combined, setting up the 4th Tier of classes and abilities: The merger of magic and technology into something greater than either alone.

The destroyers land, and epic battles commence.

The important bits, gameplay wise, are the four tiers of abilities: Survival (simple), Elemental, Technological, and Combined. Each of these involves granting new classes to players, which may merge or work with existing classes. Each also involves a decision, which will limit the player to a partial set of each tier. For example, there are 4 'survival' classes, and the player may only use 2. Further tier limitations haven't been decided really. The Elemental tier will probably constrain the 'methods' for using elemental magic, rather than the elements being consumed. The Technological tier design is still quite a ways off. The Merged tier will probably not involve any decisions; but the decisions in technology and elements will decide how the player can merge them together.

So much to do.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Setting and Progression, Part 1

The skirmish engine, as we've planned it, is a remarkably complicated little beast. Combat is not simple, and understanding every aspect of it will likely be difficult. Mitigating this chaos has been a topic we've been going back and forth on for a while, trying to decide how to introduce the player to the various concepts in the game at a managable pace.

The obligatory reference is to Portal. Portal breaks the first half of the game into a linear sequence of separable training levels. Each level teaches the player precisely one concept, and the following levels expand on the concept (but slowly) to hammer the idea home. Most players don't realize the training, which is fabulous, since it both gives them a sense of momentum and accomplishment.

So, we decided to break up the 'timeline' of the player's gameplay by level, and decide when concepts were to be introduced. The design of the classes and skills at that level need to be built to reflect the training, so we'd better decide the progression fairly early. We'd also like it if the progression of ideas mirrored the plot development of the setting. Like portal, it would hide the complicating mechanics by masking it as a plot change. It could maybe feel more natural to have a new concept to learn, if there's a setting based reason.

With our goal in hand we look a bit at other games in a closer space. WoW always comes up, naturally. WoW staggers some new concepts throughout the game. New skills are learned slowly; more complicated skills are often in later levels. Talents are not available until level 10, and they are almost the only actual decision making a player has to make in the game! Yes, until level 10 there are no necessary decisions; it's a good thing! Certain types of more complicated equipment (verb-pieces, like trinkets) are not available until 40 or 50. These pieces are inherently more complicated than mere stat-sticks, since they need to be used, and often interact more closely with the player's behavior.

Now for Skirmish again. What decisions does the player have to make? Initially, they must decide which primary unit seeds they will be able to control. This is similar to selecting a class for WoW. Other than this, changing primary classes and selecting commander skills are the major skirmish-related decisions. The world gameplay may introduce some of its own, and we really ought to figure that out more soon, but we haven't, so be it.

Can we delay the decision making until providing a method for making the decisions? The Elder Scrolls games (or really just Bethesda games, seeing as Fallout 3 follows the same paradigm) have the player proceed through an introduction before making any decisions except for character visuals (which don't really even matter, since they are typically first-person). I often like this paradigm, although the implementation may leave something to be desired, especially with respect to immersion.

Let's have a training section, but let's ground it in setting. We haven't talked much about setting yet, but the plan is to have the player start the game exiled from home, arriving through some means into a new environment. And this exodus was not planned, which is important. Let us have our player crash land, sans equipment or training, with only a few companions together. They've landed in a hostile environment, and scavenge for tools to survive. From the environment they find basic implements for combat, something so very basic... Like a Stick. Yes. A stick. Your companions are now a new training class, 'Stick Swinger'. Or something. Maybe something a little less silly, like 'Trainee' or something more plot poignant like 'Refugee'.

The game begins, we teach you how to move. Your trainee has very little he can do, you just stick together and learn to defend yourself. Later you pick up a makeshift shield, and learn some defenses. Later, you acquire a simple ranged mechanism by throwing the stick. And perhaps later we have you sneak around a frightening collection of foes; some foreshadowing for the setting? Or just a convenient way to teach stealth? Both really.

Now through survival we've taught you the mechanics of the 4 starting classes! Aha! But now a group of settled locals encounters your group and tells you that you must flee the area immediately or be overrun. But there are several means to escape. Perhaps this is your decision point where you pick your 'class', by deciding on a way out. The means to survive in your chosen path are granted by your decision, and so the path is set.

Now, what else have we introduced? Basic equipment in theory, although that could easily be hidden from the player at this stage. Basic controls, but no active abilities, just group control. Very very basic.

Next time I'll focus more on our ideas for setting, and after that how training, progression, and setting are all tied together.

More updates.

Agh! We did more stuff! Here's the list.

  • Client-side database: We are no longer flying blind on the client side! Previously the only information the client had available was necessarily provided through the communication protocol. This both complicated the protocol and inflated the communication overhead, and was very limited! Now we have a client-side database that can store parallel information, but can ALSO store client-specific information, such as icons and tooltips. I think I'll write a more detailed post about the process and decisions on this one.
  • Client Icons: As aforementioned. We have a 'nice' editor for adding icons into the database and referencing them from actions. States to be added soon and made visible on the client.
  • Classes: Kol's made progress on primary class development; The first 2 ranks of classes are functional (and neat), and the third echelon is in progress. We've also decided on a new way of handling the expansionist class philosophy we had to deal with. I think THAT should also be a new post.
  • Commanders: Eirikr's built up the first couple major skill trees and done a first pass on the skill implementations. Since Skills are more complicated to use than class levels, though, they don't get much testing. We're still working on the client UI for selecting skills (currently it's a big long list of 80 options or something else rather absurd). The UI was waiting on the client database implementation, so that's not far off now.
  • Load/Save: Still bugs with entity storage. It's complicated! The initial methodology for saving entities assumes a complete zone state, and doesn't break cross-entity references. That's not possible for permanent storage, so I needed to break up a lot of internal and cross-entity references to prevent bad data on load. Lots of problems here unfortunately. They're getting cleaned up and it's decent now. Always more to do.
Oh, and we fixed XP and SP gain mechanics. But then it was too slow so we mutliplied it by 10. Yay for 2 levels for killing an Ogre.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Skirmish Update

  • Commander Skill existance and parsing! We has commander skills! The list is long.
  • Commander initialization updated to include... Skills. Duh.
  • New skill and action options: Conditional expressions on procs, conditional power modifications on actions. Also, expressions on targets. 
  • Expression for proximity.
  • And Zai made the client freaking gorgeous.
It's neat!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Skirmish Update

We were only somewhat productive over the break, but since then there've been some pretty noteworthy improvements and developments and other large words:

  1. Accounting system: There is an entirely new server running, which interfaces with MySQL and implements the account and entity storage system. To go with this, we implemented some new client frontend; a Login screen and commander selection. If no commander is selected, a new one will be created. Anonymous logins are allowed but entities are unsaved.
  2. I'd like to point out that this was a lot of work, and is therefore deserving of 2 bullet points.
  3. New types of states. Conditionals (While) and some new kinds of proc conditions, such as proximity.
  4. New actions. Mostly pulls and jumps. 
  5. Commander training: Commanders can now train their units in new classes. Some classes are 'auto trained' so any new primary automatically learns these. So, now, the Swordsman/Shieldman commander's units will now be able to be either, and simply start as one or the other. This means that combo classes are now available.
  6. No more sticking and sadistic Ogres. Well, sorta.
Gonna talk about building up Commanders next.

Seriously. The account thing is huge.